Aug. 31, 2011
"The building phrase is a good one," said Wieczorek, Iowa's head coach since 1987. "We qualified for the NCAAs as a team in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. We've missed the last several years, so that's what I want to recreate -- that type of team, an NCAA-type team."
Junior Jeff Thode returns to anchor the Hawkeye lineup after earning All-America honors during his sophomore season. He was the sixth All-American in school history and the first since 1998. The Schaumberg, Ill., native also garnered all-region and second team All-Big Ten honors, and he led the team in every race during the year.
"We are rebuilding, and starting with Jeff Thode is a good place," said Wieczorek. "I think it is very important if you can have that really talented athlete that can go out and get you a low number in the race... someone that can contend for a win."
Along with being the team's top runner, Wieczorek is looking for Thode to take on more leadership within the program.
"I think he can be a role model," said Wieczorek. "He's a junior now and is assuming more of a leadership role, not only by example of how he competes and trains, but asserting himself a little more and putting his stamp on the team.
"As other runners are developing, having an athlete as accomplished as Jeff is really vital for our team."
Along with the return of junior Nick Holmes, senior Chase Kadlec and sophomore Jon Michael Brandt, Wieczorek is excited about three freshmen -- Kevin Lewis, Ben Witt and Evan Selsor. Lewis was a state cross country champion and the state two-mile and mile champion at Ottumwa High School, Witt placed third (behind Lewis) out of Burlington High School, and Selsor was the Class 2A champion out of Winterset.
"All three of our freshmen have looked really good in workouts," said Wieczorek. "I think the freshmen are going to have an immediate impact within our program."
The Hawkeyes open the 2011 season at the Iowa Open on Friday night at the Ashton Cross Country Course. Wieczorek is looking for his runners to mesh as a team and start answering some questions.
"Can we form a little bit as a team?" said Wieczorek. "Can we have some pack running? Can we see some continuity of our runners running together?
"That's usually what I hope for in the first meet... can they run together and run as a pack. I think it's a good place to start out."
The Iowa Open is a co-dual with Illinois State. The women's 4K is set to begin at 6 p.m. followed by the men's 6K at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.